CFLs: Are We Insane?


Barbara H. Peterson

I just saw an advertisement for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). We are encouraged by environmental activists and government agencies to conserve energy, and that is a good thing. However, one of the popular solutions for conserving energy that these groups promote is the CFL. The fact that every CFL contains mercury, and mercury is highly toxic, does not make this an environmentally sound promotion. In fact, it is an environmental time bomb.

The U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are promoting the use of CFLs that are mainly supplied by China through the Energy Star program. Here is an excerpt from the Energy Star site:

If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.

This government-sponsored Energy Star promotional program, and environmental sites such as Earth Easy at that sell CFLs are prime examples of the two-faced environmental sword that is tearing us apart. The Earth Easy site promotes “Ideas for environmentally sustainable living.” In other words, it promotes the following, according to it’s website:

Eartheasy strives to:

  • help us reduce our impact on the earth’s resources
  • help reduce our contribution to global warming
  • bring more simplicity to our lives
  • bring us closer to nature

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Finally, the government and the environmentalists agree, so it must be a good idea. Wrong!  

How will unleashing mercury-filled light bulbs on the general populace actually help us rid the earth of toxins? How will this supposed “environmentally friendly” program reduce our impact on the earth’s resources, reduce our contribution to global warming, bring more simplicity to our lives and bring us closer to nature?

Here is a warning on the handling and disposal of CFLs at the Earth Easy site:

Important Note: Handling and Disposal of CFLs

The mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs poses no threat while in the bulb, but if you break one:
– open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more
– immediately use a wet rag to clean it up and put all of the pieces, and the rag, into a plastic bag
– place all materials in a second sealed plastic bag
– call your local recycling center to see if they accept this material, otherwise put it in your local trash. Wash your hands afterward.
– if bulb breaks on a carpet, pick up pieces using sticky tape. If any debris remains, use the vacuum and dispose of vacuum bag by sealing it in plastic bags (as above), before disposal.

Although household CFL bulbs may legally be disposed of with regular trash (in most US states), they are categorized as household hazardous waste. As long as the waste is sent to a modern municipal landfill, the hazard to the environment is limited. However, CFLs should not be sent to an incinerator, which would disperse the mercury into the atmosphere.

The best solution is to save spent CFLs for a community household hazardous waste collection, which would then send the bulbs to facilities capable of treating, recovering or recycling them. For more information on CFL disposal or recycling, you can contact your local municipality.

The Energy Star site contains a similar warning, and is very careful to point out that the amount of mercury in one bulb is minimal. Now I ask, just how many small amounts of mercury does it take to make a large amount of mercury? My house contains at least twelve light bulbs, probably more. Multiply that by every household in America. Now, think of these mercury-filled bulbs being thrown in the trash. When thrown in the trash they break! This creates a hazard not only for the people whose house the trash is in, but also the trash collectors who handle it and dump it at the nearest refuse station. Not only are the trash collectors exposed, but these broken light bulbs spill their contents on whatever is around them. Mercury piles up in the environment and eventually reaches our water supply. But wait, this is an environmentally sound promotion, isn’t it?

Sorry, but dumping mercury into the environment to sustain that environment is absurd, and thinking that we are immune to its effects is simply arrogant.

Mercury’s Long Half-Life In The Central Nervous System

Mercury in the central nervous system (CNS) causes psychological, neurological, and immunological problems in humans. Mercury bonds very firmly to structures in the CNS through its affinity for sulfhydryl-groups on amino acids. Other studies have shown that mercury is taken up in the periphery by all nerve endings and rapidly transported inside the axon of the nerves (axonal transport) to the spinal cord and brainstem. Unless actively removed, mercury has an extremely long half-life of somewhere between 15 and 30 years in the CNS.

This is not safe, environmentally friendly stuff. In fact, it is a time-bomb that will leave future generations wondering if their relatives were insane when they unleashed this peril on society and the earth under the pretext of saving humanity through energy efficiency. The environmentally friendly mercury bulb. If you believe that, I’ve got some ocean-front property in Arizona you might be interested in.

Copyright 2007, Barbara H. Peterson

8 Responses

  1. Shopping Online

    Great information, to the point and content rich, thanks for sharing it and making it available

  2. By the way do you realize this is part of a right wing political campaign to discredit environmentalism?

  3. I don’t care one lick about “right wing” and “left wing,” or the “environmentalists” when they back a mandate for me to use a toxic substance as the “lesser of the evils.” This is pure baloney.

    What I do care about is the fact that we are being mandated to use a CFL bulb that can only be purchased from China, that contains mercury. This mercury, when released from the bulb due to breakage, can harm my family and my friends’ families. That’s what I care about.

    What else will you do to comply with the global control agenda that is in the guise of environmentalism? THINK! It is not about “friendly” green mercury bulbs, it is about control.

    No, I will not use the little toxic time-bombs, even if mandated to do so.

    If a sector of the supposed environmental movement that you mention is discredited by its love for toxic light bulbs, then maybe it wasn’t so environmetally friendly after all.

  4. What you don’t know is that the most mercury is released into the atmosphere by power plants. In fact, more mercury is released by powering a regular incandescent bulb than is contained in a CFL. So when you add up the energy it takes to light a CFL and the mercury contained inside, it is STILL less mercury released into the atmosphere that the mercury released by powering a single incandescent bulb. Don’t just assume that every new product or idea is an attempt by the government to “get you” somehow. In this case, the most environmentally friendly choice we currently have is the CFL bulb.

  5. I don’t buy this either, I’m looking at what the above poster has said and remembering how much companies used to and still do, deposit mercury into rivers and the air. I’m not believing this crap until I see some real quantitative data on how much they contain. I bet your worse off to buy chinese canned mushrooms than CFLs. Mushrooms will leach nearly every heavy metal out of a soil that is there and then you eat them, unlike CFLs.

    Also, who smashes their CFLs anyway? Idiots? I’ve never smashed any. I bet that at least 75% of the ones I’ve thrown away are sitting in the landfill now fully intact.

    • Thank God you’re talking about this! Please keep the topic alive and in the forefront. I’ve just joined the bandwagon and will do everything in my power to promote this information and turn it around.
      In response to St. Plaidman: You don’t need to smash them to break them. If you lean over immediately to clean them up there is the Mercury along with vapors that can affect us neurologically.

      You’re supposed to treat these as Hazardous Waste according to the EPA and take them to your local Toxic waste facility to dispose of them. If you wash fabrics it was broken on you can contaminate water systems the EPA goes on to say.

      Does that sound green?

      Also, one bulb is not much but how and where is Mercury produced for these?

  6. […] note: For more information, please see “CFLs, Are We Insane?” […]

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